Billy is struggling, there is no doubt about it. After a three-for-24 start to the month of July Butler has seen his batting average drop to .270 and his slugging percentage dip below .400. In no way is Butler currently hitting the way we all know he can hit, and his continued struggles are not helping a team that already has issues consistently putting runs up on the board.
Again, there is no doubt Butler has not lived up to his abilities through the first half of the season. But Billy isn’t Jeff Francoeur. He is one of the most valuable assets the Royals have on their roster.
Since 2009 there are only seven players in baseball who hit at least .300/.370/.480 with at least 2500 plate appearances.
That’s not a slouch list. And if you reduce the plate appearances minimum to 1000 there are only three more names who would be added to the list: Buster Posey, Victor Martinez, and Troy Tulowitzki. Again, not a shabby list of players to be mentioned with. Butler is the only full-time designated hitter on that list so let’s take a look how his WAR compares to his peers over that time.
(Note: The table consists of DH’s from 2009-2012 who DH’d at least 50% of the time and had a minimum of 5 WAR.)
There is a strong case to make that Butler has been the best designated hitter in baseball since 2009 with the possible exception of off-injured David Ortiz. Billy is one of the most valuable assets the Royals own because almost no team in baseball owns a property like him.
But this hasn’t prevented fans from getting on Billy.
— Jeff Davidson (@jahwkfan) July 8, 2013
And here lies this issue. Billy is not doing Billy things of late. We talked last week about how his inability to hit the fastball has hindered his power numbers, but for the most part his on-base and batting average numbers were still on par with what he was doing at this time last season. A .125/.192/.167 start to July has put a decent sized dent in those overall numbers. His .270 batting average is the lowest it has ever been at this stage of a season since he became an every day player. And isn’t just a few points lower, it is over 20 points lower. Then there is this:
A .270/.372/.389 overall line is not awful. In fact his 111 OPS+ ranks him second on the team behind Alex Gordon. Butler, mired in a season-long “slump” by his standards, is still the second best hitter on the team. The power numbers are down, no question, but even with those numbers being down it does not mean he is the issue with why the Royals are having trouble scoring runs.
But when this is the year the Royals decide to “win” and playing for a Wild Card spot is something that is on their minds heading into the season then things like Billy Butler slumping are going to receive a lot more attention and scrutiny. His weight, lack of hustle, perceived poor post-game interviews, and inability to hit home runs at a David Ortiz pace have been talking points for people who will demand that their best pure hitter maintain the pace he set last season. Once the expectations increase, so do the standards in the minds of fans.
It isn’t fair, but when the bar you have set over the last four seasons is .306/.371/.483 and you come into the halfway mark at .270/.372/.389 then there is going to be some backlash, even if you’re numbers still count as more than a standard deviation better than league average.
So what should we make of Billy for the rest of the season?
His career numbers suggest he has always been a better second half hitter than a first half hitter, especially when it comes to power. There is encouragement to what he has done in the past.
Whether or not that turns into a reality may be dependent on whether or not Butler can make the adjustment he needs to with fastballs. There is no reason to believe Butler cannot make that adjustment or find the reason why his swing has been off against pitches we are so used to seeing him crush. But down years do happen and it is entirely possible Billy is having a season that will be looked back on as a random off year.
If Butler does make the adjustments and gets back to the swing we all know and love then the offense – aided by Gordon, newly reborn Eric Hosmer, and Savlador Perez – should be able to produce at a higher and more consistent level.